HOUSTON — After the Cubs fell behind 3-1 in the World Series last fall, first baseman Anthony Rizzo went to work on the clubhouse.
“All ‘Rocky’ stuff,” he told one of his co-conspirators. “We’re just going to go the distance and ingrain that in everyone’s head.”
The music and the movie played before Game 5, and they won. Rizzo intensified the pregame show for Game 6, and they won again.
“Every game. It was 5, 6 and 7,” he said, “playing motivational stuff, and each game was a little more animated.”
By the time the team gathered for Game 7, Rizzo was naked, jumping on things, “animated.”
“The Full Monty was Game 7,” he said.
And what was Kris Bryant — the other half of “Bryzzo” — doing?
“Focusing,” Rizzo said. “Getting ready for the game. Getting loose at the same time. Not as loose.”
“He’s laughing at Rizzo” — that’s what he was doing, manager Joe Maddon said.
“I think we both have our own ways of doing things,” Bryant said, smiling.
“They could not be more different,” Maddon said. “To me, that’s kind of the fun part about it, too.”
The most fun for Maddon is connecting the All-Star hitters at the hip in his lineup, whether it’s in the 2-3 spots, where they’ll be Opening Day, or 3-4 on occasion.
As the Cubs’ title defense opens in St. Louis, the Bryzzo Souvenir Co. opens for business again – paired in MLB commercials again, their on-field and clubhouse chemistry unmistakable, their popularity never higher.
Their impact on the Cubs’ chances to repeat are only growing as they emerge as one of the top right-left, middle-of-the-order tandems in the game.
“If you like it now, it’s going to keep getting better,” said Maddon, who brings up such historic comparisons as the Red Sox’ Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz and the Giants’ Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds when talking about his tandem’s potential so hitting together.
They might already be the best right-left/left-right Cubs combo since the days of Billy Williams and Ron Santo or Williams and Ernie Banks.
The reigning MVP in Bryant. The three-time All-Star in Rizzo, who finished in the top four in MVP voting the last two years.
Ryan Braun-Prince Fielder 2.0. A neo-Chase Utley-Ryan Howard. Yin and yang. Beavis and Butthead.
Or just Bryzzo.
“We’ve got to obviously do it again and again, keep doing it,” said Rizzo, 27. “Over time, I think it will be something. But right now it’s just us playing baseball.”
In the meantime, their relationship gets stronger in a baseball sense, “business” sense (check out MLB’s new Bryzzo commercials) and personally despite opposing personalities.
“He’s just a big old goofball, a big old kid,” said Bryant, 25, the homebody and college honor student once considered a Rhodes Scholarship candidate. “At times you think he’s the youngest one of the whole bunch here, just because he has a ton of fun playing the game.
“He’s also someone I look up to and learn from every day. But we’re completely different.”
Bryant says Rizzo tells him he wears “too much free stuff” and needs to go out more.
He says he agrees to a point.
“I don’t need to go out more,” he said. “I like being at home.”
Rizzo can’t even get Bryant to join him for a beer.
“Kris never has drank one sip of alcohol,” Rizzo said.
Not even after promising he would if they won the World Series.
“He says he did, but I don’t think so,” Rizzo said.
If there’s any jealousy about MVPs for one guy or Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers for the other, it doesn’t show.
“The better he gets, the better he makes me,” Rizzo said, “just by watching his approach and talking to him about the way he thinks, all the little things.”
The one thing they have in common, said Maddon: “Both of these guys have not arrived at their zenith yet offensively.”
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